HHS awards contracts for national health IT development

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HSS has awarded four contracts totaling $18.6 million to different groups that will focus on developing prototype Nationwide Health Information Network (NHIN) architectures which should help in making communication of personal electronic health records between healthcare organizations easier.

The contracts forge a foundation on which interoperable and standards-based networks can be established for health data exchange. HHS recently also awarded contracts towards a harmonization of health information standards, developing certification procedure and evaluation of related products, and to address variations in business policies and state laws that prohibit health IT and data exchange.

"The Nationwide Health Information Network contracts will bring together technology developers with doctors and hospitals to create innovative state-of-the-art ideas for how health information can be securely shared," said Mike Leavitt, HHS secretary at the announcement last week of the contracts. "This effort will help design an information network that will transform our healthcare system resulting in higher quality, lower costs, less hassle and better care for American consumers," Leavitt added.

The four consortia are led respectively by Accenture, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), International Business Machines (IBM) and Northrop Grumman.  Each consortium will be a partnership with technology and health care leaders in three local health care markets. Each group will develop an architecture and a prototype network for secure information sharing through each facet of the healthcare system. All four consortia also will work jointly so that information can move seamlessly between each. The consortia must design and implement a standards-based network prototype over the course of one year.
 
"These prototypes are the key to information portability for American consumers and are a major step in our national effort to modernize health care delivery," said David J. Brailer, MD, PhD, national coordinator for health information technology, in a release. "This is a critical piece of moving health IT from hope to reality."  

IBM looks forward to the challenge the contract presents. "It's a very unique opportunity for us to be part of something that's going to move the ball forward on the standards and also implement some of the exchange in the data so that you can improve the use of the standards," said Tom Romeo, federal partner for HHS, IBM.

Each consortium leader will act largely as a general contractor and bring in other organizations and companies as sub-contractors with additional specialties.
   
"Our strength in this team is definitely the architecture and the project management," said Romeo. "The subject matter expertise around the content of the records and the representation of the data -- and how to work with the regions -- are all things that we look to our partners to help bolster us on," he added.
   
IBM has already worked on a number of initiatives with different groups to establish better means for electronic information exchange between healthcare networks the base foundation already exists.
   
Romeo believes that this HHS initiative will make way for "an open architecture that anyone could use and drives the standards to a much higher level of maturity, and provides the documentation around the standards that will allow for a much higher degree of participation."
   
IBM's own interest in this initiative "is multi-fold so that if this does become a utility model IBM is very much interested in providing that utility," said Romeo. "While the government has given this prototype effort and really supplied money to start the initiatives, there is an expectation that it become a self-sustaining business model over time," he added.
   
IBM will work with Argosy, Business Innovation, Cisco, HMS Technologies, IDL Solutions, Ingenium, and VICCS in the following health market areas: Taconic Health Information Network and Community (New York); North Carolina Healthcare Information and Communications Alliance (Research Triangle, N.C.); and North Carolina Healthcare Information and Communications Alliance (Rockingham County, N.C.).
   
The remaining three consortia consist of:

  • Accenture, working with Apelon, Cisco, CGI-AMS, Creative Computing Solutions, eTech Security Pro, Intellithought, Lucent Glow, Oakland Consulting Group, Oracle, and Quovadx.  This group will work with the following health market areas: